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18 Aug 2019, Edition - 1496, Sunday

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India News

Cardinal sin, dissent `crucifiying’ Church in Kerala

Ajay Kumar Menon

Never before has the Church in Kerala landed in such a shattered situation where it has a series of sexual scandals to counter after priests have landed in police custody for their libidinous tendencies, nuns have come out in public protest against a Bishop accused of raping one of their colleagues and priests publicly announcing that they will not obey the orders of a Cardinal who was initially accused of being involved in a land scam and later reinstated through Vatican intervention.

Incidentally, some of these cases, including that of the oldest Sr Abhaya murder, are to come up for hearing over the next few days.

It has been a never-imagined-before position for the Church when over 200 priests of the Syro Malabar Diocese gathered and announced their displeasure over the reinstatement of George Alencherry as the Cardinal after he had to step down on charges of being involved in sale of land that caused a huge loss to the Church.

They even announced that they would not obey his orders and read out the pastoral letters issued by him. Such defiance has not just flummoxed the authorities, but even the laity.

To add to the embarrassment was the arrest last week of a priest arrested on paedophile charges. Fr George (40) allegedly abused six inmates of a boys’ hostel run by the Carmelites Order at Palluruthy in Kochi. He is said to have been abused them since December last and even threatened action against those who failed to succumb to his carnal desires. The boys jumped the hostel and went home to complain. Police action followed a complaint by the parents.

This shattered the Church which is yet to come out the shock of the libidinous ways of Franco Mulakkal, who was removed from the position of Jalandhar Bishop last year, following charges of raping a nun several times. The case had wider ramifications as this was also the first time that the Church witnessed protests from nuns who came out to join a public meeting and sat for days together demanding Franco’s arrest.

Just over a year ago, a Catholic priest, Robin Vadakkumcherry, was arrested while trying to flee the country after facing charges of sexually abusing a 16-year-old and impregnating her. The girl delivered and the child is in an orphanage.

Last year, four priests of the Malankara Orthodox Church were arrested on charges of blackmailing and sexually assaulting a married woman for three years on the basis of her confession of having been in love with one of the priests when she was a young girl.

The oldest case of March 27, 1992, when a hardly 20-year-old nun, Sr Abhaya, was found dead in a well of a convent in Kottayam, is to come up for hearing at the CBI special court next week. She was allegedly killed and an attempt was made to make it a case of suicide.

The chargesheet was filed after nearly a decade and trial was delayed by tactics of the accused, Fr Thomas Kottoor, Fr Joseph Poothrikkayil, Sr Sephy and Superintendent of Police KT Michael. The court later discharged Fr Joseph and Michael. This has been challenged and the case is pending. The other two face trial next week.

Besides the dispute over huge properties between the Jacobite and Orthodox factions continuing, the latest has been the public dissent growing within the Kerala diocese of the Church of South India (CSI) over huge capitation fee being collected for admission to its medical college. A separate account is there for this illegal collection and the diocese has ordered a probe into the alleged financial irregularities.

All these come when the world has been looking at the Pope going places to condemn such abuse by the clergy. But the power of the Church over its laity has been so strong to silence the voices of dissent. The Church has the backing of the political parties as made clear by the LDF government attempt to ask the Kerala Lalita Kala Academi to review its cartoon award depicting Franco Mulakkal as a rooster holding the ceremonial bishop staff on which hangs a woman’s undergarments. The rooster stands on a police cap held by two politicians.

The control of the Church, like that of Kerala’s powerful political party CPM, over its followers has slowly started showing signs of crumbling, forcing it to find ways to steer clear of controversies.

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